Gov calls for greater urgency in tsunami plan

PHUKET CITY: Phuket Governor Udomsak Usawarangkura has ordered the provincial branch of the Office of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation (ODPM) to speed up its coastal evacuation planning and work more closely with local government bodies in order to prevent a repeat of the confusion that followed last Monday’s tsunami alert.

Gov Udomsak made the call at yesterday’s monthly meeting of senior officials at Phuket Provincial Hall.

He said he had ordered evacuation planning after the first tsunami, but had so far seen little real progress.

He also announced that by April the central government’s tsunami early-warning system should be operational in Patong, which has been designated as the pilot district for the project.

He explained that the new system would allow the Meteorological Department to issue tsunami warnings immediately after receiving any report of a large earthquake in the region. The system of three siren towers, each audible at a distance of one kilometer, would cover the entire length of Patong Beach, he said.

In the meantime, the Governor called for better training of local officials to allow them to conduct an orderly evacuation of danger areas within 15 or 20 minutes.

He noted, for example, that a large earthquake centered on Port Blair in the Andaman Islands would produce tsunami waves that would reach Phuket in 45 minutes, whereas another large quake along the Andaman Thrust Fault off Sumatra would take about one hour. These limited time frames make advance preparation an urgent requirement, he said.

V/Gov Niran Kalayanamit added that training sessions would need to be repeated on an annual basis to ensure readiness and guard against complacency.

Gov Udomsak also urged officials to integrate the growing hodge-podge of tsunami warning systems on the island.

In addition to the central government’s system, the Provincial Administration Organization (OrBorJor) is setting up its own 8.8-million-baht emergency shortwave radio network around the island.

Using 12 repeater antennae, the network is intended to provide communications should local mobile phone networks collapse, as they did after the December 26 tsunami and again on Monday.

Initial work on warning towers starts tomorrow in Patong, Kata and Karon, and is scheduled for completion by the end of April. The OrBorJor is still negotiating to acquire all the land necessary to build the repeater stations, however.

There is also a budget for a third tsunami warning system, also in Patong, as part of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s (TAT) 200-million-baht redevelopment plan for that district. Details have yet to be announced.

Gov Udomsak also announced that a “hazard map” is now being produced by Chulalongkorn University researchers in conjunction with a team of Japanese tsunami experts.

The map, which will be ready in about a year, will show which parts of the island are most vulnerable to inundation by tsunamis and will include evacuation routes based on this information. The map will initially cover only the most popular tourist beaches of Patong, Kata-Karon and Kamala, he said.

Pattanapong Aikwanich, President of Phuket Tourist Association, suggested that an evacuation manual in Thai and English be distributed to local people and tourists alike and said that last Monday’s served as yet another wake-up call.

The traffic gridlock then – which in Patong extended the entire length of Phrabaramee Rd from the top of Patong Hill down to the beach – would have resulted in many casualties had a tsunami occurred, he said.

Phuket News
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